REVIEW: The Girl Next Door (Luke Greenfield, 2004)

Great friends, reckless abandon, endearing memories... that was high school. Or was it? A lot of us feel like we missed out on all that... that those four years (give or take) were all wasted either in the classroom or some other insignificant hovel. The opening montage of The Girl Next Door, set to Queen and David Bowie's excellent song "Under Pressure" (the first great song in a soundtrack full of them from "Dopes to Infinity" by Monster Magnet to Donovan's "Atlantis,") perfectly establishes the unforgettable nature of high school as it was for the "other kids" and introduces us to our main character, Matthew, the soon-to-be-graduated Senior (Emile Hirsch, who plays a key part in making the film so easy to relate to,) as he happens upon the epiphany that he missed out. New mainstreamer Luke Greenfield directs what could have easily been (and actually began conceptualization as) a cheap sex comedy but turns out to be something much more special.

The early character development, scene setting and commencing of the plot are handled surprisingly well with flare original to the genre. I couldn't help but be reminded of Dazed and Confused. The only complaint I can muster about this first third of the film, a minor complaint that lingers throughout and applies to a vast multitude of cinema, is that the character interactions are often too arranged, making the blocking and directing obvious and taking away from the realism factor. In the hands of someone like Dazed and Confused director Richard Linklater (is there anyone like him?) this would have been a non-issue, but of course considering his helming as an afterthought is frivolous. Greenfield, discovered through his 2000 short film, The Right Hook and utilizing an array of misdirection techniques in this outing, proves more than capable and does the movie good. He does the movie so good in fact, that much like Roger Kumble his name attached to a future picture would generate interest for me despite the subject matter. To daringly relate him to another director, I'll even add that he reminded me of a young Cameron Crowe in spots.

The comedy, running a unique path between strong sexuality and romantic drama, takes a strange curve from the story I expected it to follow, a simple scenario about a boy vying for love, and reveals our girl next door's secret: she's a porn star. At first I wasn't sure about what seemed to be a devastating deviation from the path of goodness that had been traversed so far, but it quickly proved itself as an intriguing amplification. We are introduced to Kelly, a porn producer played by Timothy Olyphant, a villain who is just too cool to hate. He takes our hero in as a protege, changing the film's gears in favor of even more fun.

While the porn angle does thrust the film into new worlds, it is also highly fantasized. Greenfield openly admits that he crafted the scene at the Adult Film Convention (and the rest of the envisioning of the pornography business for that matter) after his imagination and not the actual event that he's attended twice, but the imagined portrayal comes across as an obvious exaggeration, featuring dancing starlets on stages and even a back room whose goings-on border orgy. This is just another minor complaint, however, because the scene itself plays out very well and provides some of the best belly laughs from the comic duo Eli and Klitz, played by Chris Marquette (who drops an excellent Godfather II reference) and Paul Dano, two very funny young dudes who really deliver here.

I finally understand the wide adoration of Elisha Cuthbert, though I am still lost when it comes to pronouncing her name. Her performance here rivals starlets of the past such as Phoebe Cates. The on-screen pairing of Cuthbert and Hirsch comes through with great results - their eyes communicate angst with perfection. The smaller roles of the supporting cast are also reputable, taken up by actors like Timothy Bottoms (That's My Bush!) Donna Bullock, the magnificently eyebrow-less Harris Laskaway and Julie Osburn. And yeah, I actually did recognize one real porn actor featured in a cameo role, Steven St. Croix (A.K.A. "Captain Hook") credited as "Karate Guy in Porn Film."

With the R rating (or lack of rating on DVD,) The Girl Next Door supersedes its potential teen-flick status and becomes an unforgiving and honest film that is downright fun with a healthy helping of sentimentality. As Greenfield states in his commentary track, his young life didn't seem exciting and eventful like the lives of his subjects, so he has "to live vicariously" through them, and he has given us a fine way to do that ourselves with this film.

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